Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cake in the oven

Kitchen linguistics, noun: Amateurish and/or scientifically incompetent half-humorous linguistic and etymological discussions over breakfast or a cup of tea. Origin: in Finnish, "kitchen psychology" is a negative term used for non-scientific psychological discussions / advice, for example, self help books.

Kitchen linguistics has been a long-term hobby of my better half and me. We live in Germany, are studying German, speak English at work and with our friends, and try to keep up with the latest Finnish street-cred-increasing phrases. This creates a lovely linguistic confusion which provides food for thought, and material for this blog.

Today's topic: Placenta. Surprisingly, the word for placenta has something to do with cake in many languages.

It started when a Romanian friend of ours informed us that in Romanian, there is a cake called Plăcintă. And indeed, the origin of the English word placenta is a Latin word meaning cake.

I explained this to a German friend, and he pointed out that in German, the word for placenta is Mutterkuchen (mother-cake).

The third instance of this discussion occurred at a dinner table at work (attendees: a German, a Hungarian, a Finn, a Czech, and a Romanian), where we concluded that the saying "a bun in the oven" should be updated to be "a cake in the oven", to be more accurate.


  1. So, what _are_ the latest Finnish street-cred-increasing phrases?

  2. Whenever we have Finnish friends visiting us, I ask them to give an update about the latest new words and phrases.

    The last time I did that, we ended up discussing different slang words for sweating. Like, sweating done by different body parts, different types of sweating, and so on, they all have their own slang words.

  3. Funnily enough, there is no relation whatsoever between placenta and any kind of cake in Italian (unless there is something in some obscure dialect). How interesting!

    Love the concept of this blog :)

  4. Same in Danish: moderkage. But our bun is an entire bread.

  5. Tangential comment on your choice of name: "kitchen" also gets applied in English to language capability. For instance, if your parents had moved to another country when you were a child, such that you grew up speaking some Finnish in the home, but you'd never learned proper grammar or been exposed to the wider written and spoken language, you'd be said to speak "kitchen Finnish".

    1. @Mickey: Great addition of information! Good to know!

  6. @Caterina: whats the etmnology of placenta in italian, any idea?

  7. It comes also from Latin. The only difference is that there is no cake associated with it. The Italian word for cake is "torta", and the word placenta refers exclusively to the baby-thing.